Once upon a time Certificate 18 used to mean something. It wasn't an impervious barrier against viewing before your time and of course there were ways around it. Fake IDs, drawn-on facial hair, and some daggy clothes pinched from Dad, or less creatively, borrowing a copy of a film from an older friend. And now? The film classification ratings seem almost meaningless. Firstly because through the internet children have access to content far more explicit than mainstream films, and secondly because of the twin-pronged encroachment of mobile and internet offering omnipresent access to sex, violence and all the abusive language you can listen to at ever ready finger tips.
You wouldn't let a stranger babysit your child, and you would protect your child against physical danger. Yet every day strangers have direct access to our children's fertile minds, through their mobiles, tablets, TVs, computers and game boxes. The effects may be less obvious than physical incursions, but an equally, if not more powerful influence on their behaviour, values and perhaps most significantly, identity.
The days when we could effectively protect our children from media exposure are gone. Add to the internet and mobile, billboards, magazines, radio, computer games, and we can see that complete prevention is unrealistic. There are also many benefits to be had from a free attitude towards media.
Media, is society's way to tell stories, and from early narratives such as Greek mythologies, with plenty of sex and violence, we have been exploring deep questions about life, what it means to be human, our limits, fears and loves. The more we allow creative expression in media, the more we create stories that explore life. The cathartic effect of media has always played an important role in society, violence acted out on stage or screen has a role in keeping it from being acted out in reality. So if we accept that protection from exposure to explicit content is unrealistic and in some ways counter-productive what is the solution?
The answer comes from our children themselves, from within. They are going to play violent computer games and be exposed to explicit sexual content at younger ages than previous generations. Combine this with peer pressure and other problems that a child may have in their lives and the effects can be highly destructive. So we must help ensure that our children are empowered to become less reactive and more mindful and resilient. To help them develop awareness of the mental space that enables them to respond to media as both consumers and producers of content in a mindful way.
In the same way you wouldn't want your child to respond indiscriminately with aggression to every little provocation, the same sense of discernment and non-reactivity to violent computer games for example is needed. It is this sense of discernment that can make the difference between media being meaningful and cathartic, or prompting negative copycat behaviour in the real world.
By helping our children become more grounded, centred and mindful the risk of reacting in a destructive way, and problems such as sexting, cyber bullying and copycat violence are reduced. By building these foundations of a connection to an inner space of calm and non-reactivity we help strengthen the connection to an intelligent response to media influence and weaken the connection to a mindless reactive response. So how do you do this?
Ask your children what they think the intention behind a particular piece of media is. Ask them how they could respond differently in particular situations. Give your child the space to connect to their deeper selves, their inner core of peace and calm. Give them techniques to connect them to their breathing, bodies and their natural peaceful state.
When someone raises their level of awareness it always comes with increased options of conscious ways to choose to respond. This choice partly comes from having new perspectives and partly from being more present and aware of the space between experience and reaction. As their capacity to witness this space improves it gives children more awareness about how experience and media affects them and the thoughts and impulses it creates. As producers of media it also helps in thinking about the intention behind their tweets, posts and texts, and to create from the foundations of compassion and insight with a better appreciation of cause and effect.
The mindfulness techniques help young people to become calmer, more confident and more empowered to make wiser choices. The techniques can also help build the self-discipline to study for exams or give up smoking, improve focus and poise in sport (google mindful LA Lakers), and the awareness to choose to respond differently to peer pressure, or mental and physical provocation.
With their universal application, the techniques and awareness gained through mindfulness can serve someone throughout life and the practice can be just as useful for adults dealing with a plethora of distractions, competing priorities and every day stresses.
If you would like to learn more about mindful media workshops being delivered in UK schools please see the projects section of www.transformationalmedia.org